VOD film review: Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie
James R | On 28, Apr 2018
Director: David Soren
Cast: Kevin Hart, Thomas Middleditch, Ed Helms
Watch Captain Underpants online in the UK: Sky Cinema / NOW / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play
“Is it okay that I’m kinda loving this?” “Yes and no. But mostly yes.” That’s Harold (Thomas Middlemitch) and George (Kevin Hart) in Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie. They’re your classic elementary school double-act: best friends, pranksters, lovers of comic books and capable of hypnotising their headteacher into thinking he’s a superhero who walks around in his underwear.
That, of course, makes him Captain Underpants, the world’s least-dressed and most cheerful superhero. If you thought Guardians of the Galaxy or Thor: Ragnarok had a sense of humour, wait until you see this guy in action. Captain Underpants is the scribbled creation of our lead duo, who are mortified to see their graphic novel torn to pieces by their mean headteacher, Mr. Krupp (Ed Helms). So when George’s plastic toy hypnosis ring turns out to work in real life, they don’t hesitate to use it to trick the cruel authoritarian into their favourite panty-sporting idol – well, only after they’ve turned him into a chicken and a monkey.
That reckless excitement is what drives the entire movie. Nicholas Stoller and David Soren’s screenplay, based on Dav Pilkey’s series of books, doesn’t pause once in its breathless rush to see what silliness can be concocted next. Ferris wheels, automated toilets, inflatable gorillas and more are thrown at the screen, each one dafter than the next. Soren’s direction is equally hyperactive, swooping from one set piece to another with vivid, simple colours – and then, when things get really absurd, leaping into flick book animation and more to capture the sheer energy and creativity being unleashed.
The cast follow suit, with Hart and Middlemitch selling their loyal friendship with endearing sincerity – and nimbly leaping from quip to quip. Nick Kroll, meanwhile, relishes the chance to steal scenes as the villain of the piece, Professor Poopypants. (“Hiyah class, I’m your cool new teacher, not some scary guy with a secret evil agenda!”) But it’s Ed Helms who walks away with the show, switching between angry, strict teacher and joyous, childish oaf – one second, he’s shocked to find himself in y-fronts in public, the next, he’s shouting “Tra-la-laaaa!” and greeting every driver he encounters as “vehicle person”.
Best of all, though, is the way the film lives up to the spirit of the book, not introducing an arbitrary bad guy, but making clear that the real enemy of the piece is a lack of imagination. “That is an expensive door,” remarks George, when they’re sent to the headteacher’s office. “I had to cancel the arts and music program,” replies Mr. Krupp. “I think I made the right choice.” Professor Poopypants’ weakness, meanwhile, isn’t the fact that people laugh at his name, but because he isn’t able to laugh at himself. It’s a wonderfully uplifting and heartwarming message at a time when superhero movies are so often thinking dark or following more conventional formulae – Captain Underpants, as his name suggests, is too busy giggling to worry about franchise building or blockbuster spectacle.
The result manages to deliver both in spades, serving up size jokes to rival Ant-Man and a hero who you’d love to see in action again, but this origins story never once feels generic; every frame carries the affectionate fingerprint of a well-thumbed notebook, scrawled with ideas and fun. The kind of PG movie that’s genuinely suitable for young kids (if you think they can handle whoopee cushions and jokes about pronouncing “Uranus”), Captain Underpants is a pure delight. Is that OK? Yes. Yes, it is.
Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie is available on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW, as part of a £11.99 NOW Cinema Membership subscription.